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Quid Without the Quo

[ 0 ] January 27, 2009 |

Obama is apparently urging House Dems to strip birth control funding from the stimulus bill. While this would be wrong on the merits, as Matt says what’s even worse is that the Dems seem to be getting absolutely nothing in return. Indeed, Obama should be moving in the other direction; since at this point it’s obvious that there’s essentially no chance that the Republicans will vote for the bill, and it will make no difference to any future election how many Republicans vote for it (voters will give Democrats the credit or blame irrespective of the final vote), the Dems might as well pass the best bill they can.

[X-Posted at TAPPED.]

Elsewhere: On the Side of Angels

[ 0 ] January 27, 2009 |

Jacob Levy is hosting a crookedtimber style book symposium on Nancy Rosenblum’s new book, On the Side of the Angels: An Appreciation of Parties and Partisanship. The first several posts are by Rosenblum herself, laying out main arguments of the book:

Nancy Rosenblum’s account moves between political theory and political science, and she uses resources from both fields to outline an appreciation of parties and the moral distinctiveness of partisanship. She draws from the history of political thought and identifies the main lines of opposition to parties, as well as the rare but significant moments of appreciation. Rosenblum then sets forth her own theoretical appreciation of parties and partisanship. She discusses the achievement of parties in regulating rivalries, channeling political energies, and creating the lines of division that make pluralist politics meaningful.

I’m about 100 pages in to this rather long book, so all I’ve really seen so far is her historical account of what she calls “the grand traditions of antipartyism” in political thought. While I’ve yet to get to her own positive argument, so I’ve not yet formed a worthwhile opinion, this looks like an important book; even if the core of the argument seems rather obviously right (as it does to me, and I suspect most of our readers) assembling all aspects of the argument in one place. I’m hopeful, from the list of participants, that some will offer some of the critical pushback I wouldn’t necessarily come up with as an overly sympathetic reader. There’s quite a bit already up, and I probably won’t have time to read it all until the weekend, but if you’ve got the time and the interest, check it out.

Influenza Literature

[ 0 ] January 26, 2009 |


But in some ways the most interesting thing about the Spanish Flu is the extent to which its occurrence has been purged from our historical memory despite the fact that it was extraordinarily deadly—killing more people than World War One. But it’s barely mentioned in our history textbooks, doesn’t seem to come up much in famous books by Hemingway or Fitzgerald.

Now this is an interesting point. We have an enormously rich body of post-Great War American literature, focusing both on the ex-pat experience and on various elements of the national life, and it’s hard for me off hand to remember any reference to the Spanish Flu. Am I misremembering, and if not, why does it seem as if an entire generation of writers simply ignored one of the most important events of their lives?

Would Jesus Run Up the Score?

[ 0 ] January 26, 2009 |

I’m not taking a position on whether or not the coach should have been fired, but I do have to wonder what a “Christlike” margin of victory would have been:

The coach of a Texas high school basketball team that beat another team 100-0 was fired Sunday, the same day he sent an e-mail to a newspaper saying he will not apologize “for a wide-margin victory when my girls played with honor and integrity.”

On its Web site last week, the Covenant School of Dallas, a private Christian school, posted a statement regretting the outcome of its Jan. 13 shutout win over Dallas Academy. “It is shameful and an embarrassment that this happened. This clearly does not reflect a Christlike and honorable approach to competition,” said the statement, signed by Kyle Queal, head of school, and board chair Todd Doshier.

Covenant coach Micah Grimes, who has been criticized for letting the game get so far out of hand, made it clear in the e-mail Sunday to The Dallas Morning News that he does not agree with his school’s assessment.

Open to suggestions in comments regarding the positions that Buddha, Moses, Mohammad, and Richard Dawkins might have re: running up the score. Also curious as to thoughts on doctrinal differences between Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox approaches to 100-0 shutouts in women’s high school basketball.

The End of an Error

[ 0 ] January 26, 2009 |

Six of the sweetest words in the English language: “This is William Kristol’s last column.” Although it will really limit public discourse in this country now that Kristol’s thoroughly uninteresting propaganda will be limited to his other seven or eight sinecures. I suppose the question now is who the replacement will be? Karl Rove? Erstwhile Dowd-for-a-painful-month Ann Althouse? Ace O’ Spades? (I’d link to think that its financial crisis will cause the Times to question the value of paying a significant salary to writers who bring in approximately zero readers, but…)

Finally, since Kristol includes a quote from Harvey Mansfield, I have an excuse to remind readers of Martha Nussbaum’s decimation of Mansfield’s idiotic pensees about “manliness.”


[ 0 ] January 26, 2009 |

NY politics maven Julia has more. If I read her correctly, although my framing was more negative (and my title may have — like some others — implied that I wanted Kennedy; for the record, my choice among the two was “neither”) I don’t think I actually disagree. Here’s Julia’s bottom line:

Now, none of this means that I’m enthusiastic about having a Senator to the right of the one I currently have, or that I think the state which supports Virginia’s gunrunning should have a Senator with a 100% NRA voting record, or that I like the position she took on gay rights (although she’s already said that’s going to change now that she doesn’t have to vote her district), or that I’m happy about her family ties to Joe Bruno, George Pataki and Al D’Amato, or that I think that people to the left of her shouldn’t primary (as Carolyn McCarthy of Long Island is already planning to do) or that I don’t think that progressives should donate to those primary candidates if they’re so moved.

I basically agree with all of this. Indeed, I would if anything be more generous to Gillibrand; here dynastic ties to Republicans are a trivial issue (the proof is in etc.), and given the vanishingly small possibility of consequential gun regulation passing Congress in the near future, as long as she’s not in state politics I don’t much care about her NRA lockstep (and indeed can even see it as a point in her favor; if you have to attract Republican votes, better that than abortion.) It’s likely that, with a statewide constituency that she’ll be a generic moderate Democratic Blue State Senator (warning: my crumble under minor Republican pressure.) But, as Remo Gaggi says, why take a chance? There were solid progressives to choose from, which increases the possibility of a good senator rather than a DiFi-type wet. (And of course I agree with Julia about the political logic for Patterson, but that’s really neither here nor there on the merits of the appointment.)

I’m also intruiged by Lance’s argument that “[L’s upstate father] is worried about losing that district, too, but the odds are that it’ll be lost anyway after the next re-districting.” If true, this is important; getting a worse Senator plus potentially losing a house seat was what was should have been a deal-breaker. Perhaps this wasn’t an issue. But I also don’t see why this would be true, although I hope Julia or Lance or other readers who know more than I do can fill me in if there’s some quirk I’m missing. It seems to be that for Gillibrand to lose her seat in 2010 would represent gross incompetence on the part of Democratic leadership (not, admittedly, something than can be completely discounted.) I mean, it’s Gerrymandering 101 that you never re-district out your own incumbents — there must be plenty of ways to re-draw shrinking upstate areas that stick it to Republican instead. Am I missing something?

The Awfulness of Billy Joel

[ 0 ] January 25, 2009 |

This isn’t exactly a revelation, but Ron Rosenbaum inexplicably fails to include the song that is arguably BJ’s five-minute shite-load, “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” When I teach historiography and methods every other year, I typically devote about ten minutes on the first day to that particular crime against history. By now, most students are young enough to have no memories of the song; I, by contrast, had to share a dorm suite with a guy who thought it was the greatest thing he’d ever heard until he got hooked on that unendurable Skid Row album.

Leaving aside the inscrutable chorus, the topical stupidity of the song is boundless (e.g., Why mention Malekov and not Khrushchev? Are the “rock and roller cola wars” really the final straw, provoking Joel to shake his fist and declare that “I can’t take it anymore?”) But I think the song’s essential malignance is summed up by one line: “JFK, blown away — what else do I have to say?” Because, of course, nothing is quite as historically self-explanatory as the fucking Kennedy assassination.

God, I want to punch something right now.

Fans of Chuckie

[ 0 ] January 25, 2009 |

This came crawling across my Facebook news feed this morning. It was not an ironic gesture.

I have no further comment, except to note that Krauthammer’s fan club exceeds Kristol’s by a near 3-1 margin.

IR Hall of Fame

[ 0 ] January 25, 2009 |

Stephen Walt proposes an opening class:

By a “classic work,” I mean a book or article that is a genuine “must-read” in the field when it is published, and that retains that status for a decade or more. We’re talking tape-measure home runs here, not singles. One doesn’t have to agree with these works to recognize them as seminal contributions. I can think of plenty of scholars who have written one “classic” work, but not that many who have written two.

But let’s raise the bar even higher. How many people can you think of who have written more than two “classic” works? Off the top of my head, here are three obvious candidates:

Kenneth Waltz: (1) Man, the State, and War; (2) Theory of International Politics; and (3) “The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: More May Be Better “(Adelphi Papers, 1981)

Samuel Huntington: (1) The Soldier and the State, (2) The Third Wave; and (3) The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order.

Robert Jervis: (1) Perception and Misperception in International Politics; (2) The Meaning of the Nuclear Revolution; and (3) “Cooperation under the Security Dilemma,” (World Politics, 1978).

While I can’t really quibble with the three proposed entrants, I do wonder whether the “two classic works” metric is the most helpful way to think about enshrinment. Hans Morgenthau, after all, hit .488 with 21 home runs back in 1947; sure, they counted walks as hits, but the schedule was only 82 games. More seriously, while it could be argued that E.H. Carr and Morgenthau only each published one “classic” IR work, both had enormous influence over the early history of the discipline, influence which proved enduring in Morgenthau’s case. As to other potential enshrinees, Walt’s comment sections yields several plausible candidates:

Robert Keohane
John Mearsheimer
John Gerard Ruggie
Robert Gilpin
Peter Katzenstein
Alex Wendt
Hedley Bull

Christ, that’s a bit of a sausage fest, ain’t it? My discipline sucks… maybe also Martha Finnemore? Other proposed candidates?

Strategic Level Failure

[ 0 ] January 25, 2009 |

Short term, tactical thinking:

When Israel first encountered Islamists in Gaza in the 1970s and ’80s, they seemed focused on studying the Quran, not on confrontation with Israel. The Israeli government officially recognized a precursor to Hamas called Mujama Al-Islamiya, registering the group as a charity. It allowed Mujama members to set up an Islamic university and build mosques, clubs and schools. Crucially, Israel often stood aside when the Islamists and their secular left-wing Palestinian rivals battled, sometimes violently, for influence in both Gaza and the West Bank.

“When I look back at the chain of events I think we made a mistake,” says David Hacham, who worked in Gaza in the late 1980s and early ’90s as an Arab-affairs expert in the Israeli military. “But at the time nobody thought about the possible results.”

Read the rest.

Goose DNA

[ 0 ] January 25, 2009 |

CSI gone mad:

The pilot reported the plane hit a flock of birds shortly after takeoff from LaGuardia Airport which shut down both his jets.

This engine and the right engine, which remained attached to the Airbus A-320 after the Jan. 15 ditching, will be shipped to their manufacturer, CFM International, in Cincinnati for thorough examination by safety board investigators. Both engines will be completely torn down to examine damage, and advanced equipment will be used to search for organic material not apparent during visual inspection. The safety board also said the left engine had dents on its inlet lip and broken and missing guide vanes.

Earlier this week, the safety board said the right engine also revealed evidence of ”soft body damage” and that ”organic material” was found in that engine and on the wings and fuselage. A single feather also was found.

The board sent samples of the organic material to the Agriculture Department for a DNA analysis.

I’m sure that the family of the goose in question just wants closure.


[ 0 ] January 24, 2009 |

I simply do not understand how anyone could believe that the Israeli military operations in Gaza would result in the overthrow of Hamas:

If there is any significant disenchantment with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, it is largely hidden behind the fear that many feel in speaking out against the group.

In dozens of interviews across Gaza on Friday, less than a week after the start of a tenuous cease-fire, Palestinians generally expressed either unbridled support for Hamas or resignation to the idea that the group’s reign in Gaza will continue for the foreseeable future. No one suggested that the group is vulnerable, despite the hopes of some Israeli officials who have theorized that their military campaign could ultimately spur Palestinians to rise up against Hamas rule.

Hamas’s resilience as the preeminent power in Gaza reflects the Islamist movement’s success in consolidating its authority long before the war began, analysts say. It also underscores the dividends that any Palestinian group can earn by standing up to Israel, no matter how disastrous the consequences. Hamas vowed to kill hundreds of Israelis, but Israel’s final death toll was 13, including three civilians who died as a result of the persistent rocket fire from Gaza that Israel says prompted the war.

“I hope Hamas gets more and more power and launches more and more rockets. I ask God to keep them strong,” said Abed Abu Jalhoum, 45, her face framed by a black head scarf and her feet bare as she sat on a cinder block in what was once her living room but is now only a floor with one crumbling, concrete wall.

Way back when, there were two theories about how strategic bombing could cause the collapse of governments. The first was that such bombing could disrupt the coercive capacity of the government in question, destroying the police and administrative infrastructure that kept the population in check. This concept made some sense in the wake of the Russian and abortive German revolutions, when it seemed that restless urban proletariat populations were always on the edge of revolt, and that simply “taking the lid off,” so to speak, would be sufficient to bring down a target government.

The second theory was that populations under bombardment would blame their own governments for failing to protect them. There’s a certain social contract logic to this; bombing indicates that whatever the government is doing right now is insufficient to keep me safe, and since the state has broken its contract with me I’m consequently going to break my contract with it. In a sense, this is the bourgeois counterpart to the Marxist account given above; instead of enabling a seething proletariat hungry for revolution, bombing would convince shopkeepers, housewives, office workers, and so forth that government policy needed to be changed.

We know that neither of these hypotheses are sound. We know this as surely as we can know anything in social science; after seventy years of experimentation, bombing has yet to enable the seething revolutionaries or mobilize the urban/suburban bourgeois. Urban society is far more robust than the theorists of strategic bombing believed (robust in both its productive capacity and in its social cohesion), and the bourgeois invariably seems to blame the bombers more than its own government.

And yet we have Operation Cast Lead, which combined aerial bombing with coercive ground raids that amounted to the same thing. The IDF set out to test both of the above hypotheses, trying to destroy as much of Hamas coercive capacity as possible while attempting to inflict enough pain on the civilian population to spark an uprising. From a strategic point of view, the best that can be hoped for, perhaps, is that the IDF didn’t believe its own rhetoric about weakening Hamas’ grip on Gaza. The 2006 war, for all of its failures, at least resulted in a Hezbollah more hesitant about attacking Israel, although the price was a much more powerful, prestigious, and secure organization. By the same token, Hamas may be more reluctant to lob handfuls of ineffectual rockets into Israel, but its price for such discretion will be an iron grip on Gaza, and improved prospects for control of the West Bank.

That’s not, to my mind, a sensible exchange on Israel’s part.

…in comments, Eurosabra asks:

What if the objective was just to destroy enough of the Hamas C&C personnel and infrastructure to delay the development of a large-scale long-range (Grad & Zelzal) missile threat to central Israel? Preventing the transition to a multiple-tens-of-thousands-of-rockets threat to Be’ersheva and tens of rockets that could reach Tel Aviv? And if Hamas is willing to try for escalation dominance in a transition from Qassams to Grads to Zelzals, why should Israel tolerate it or care about Gazan civilian casualties?

If that was the Israeli objective, then I don’t see any indication that it’s been achieved. The IDF campaign does not seem to have been geared towards such an objective (why you would need to destroy police stations to delay a missile threat is beyond me), and given that a)Hamas remains in control, and b) smuggling continues, there’s not much reason to believe that Hamas couldn’t continue to pursue an escalation strategy.

Beyond that, I have another objection. More effective weapons tend to be more effective because they’re more sophisticated, more expensive, and require a larger support infrastructure. Both of the missile systems Eurosabra mentions fit this description. If Hamas started to use such weapons, its factories, smuggling points, and launch sites would be correspondingly more vulnerable to Israeli counterattack. Indeed, one reason that Hamas continues to use the Qassam is that the other alternatives are too costly and too dangerous to employ with any frequency. Escalation wouldn’t grant Hamas “dominance”, but would increase Hamas’ military vulnerability. Hamas probably knows this, but even if they don’t now they would quickly find out shortly after missiles started to land in Tel Aviv. Short of possession of a nuclear weapon (and if you believe that Iran would give Hamas a nuke, you’re an idiot), Hamas cannot deter Israeli military action.

Finally, while it may be true that Israel will incur international disapproval no matter what it does in Gaza, it doesn’t follow that the international community is wholly oblivious to the actual circumstances of the conflict. After you get past the “But Israel is under attack1!!!11!! What if Mexicans started lobbing rockets into El Paso!1?!???!! What then?!?!??!”, it’s hard not to notice that Hamas rockets kill fewer people in a decade than are killed in Tel Aviv traffic accidents in a day. If Hamas could pose a significant military threat to Israel, then Operation Cast Lead (or a better conceived alternative that focused more on military and less on infrastructure targets) would be more understandable.